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Collapsed SW Radio Africa blames MDC-T

11/08/2014 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter
 
We’d like to thank the organisations and individuals who have supported ... Gerry Jackson
 
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MANAGEMENT at the UK-based SW Radio Africa has blamed disarray in the opposition MDC-T party for the closure of the London-based broadcaster which has been forced to shut down due to lack of funding.

In a statement, founder and manager, Gerry Jackson said: “It is with regret that SW Radio announces that it is closing down.

“We hope that one day Zimbabwe finally has a government who understands that its sole responsibility is to ensure a safe, healthy, prosperous life for every man, woman and child in the country.”

Established in 2001, the donor-funded station angered President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party with its nightly shortwave broadcasts into Zimbabwe so much that the veteran leader demanded its closure as a condition for implementing reforms agreed with the opposition.

So rattled with the news broadcasts was the Harare regime that police and pro-Zanu PF militants were occasionally dispatched to seize shortwave radio receivers from villagers in the country’s rural districts.

Mugabe claimed that SW Radio Africa, along with the Zimbabwe service of Voice of America, were part of attempts by the West to kick him out of office and force regime change in the country.

Jackson told the Washington Times newspaper that the project was established – with US support - to help break Zanu PF’s stranglehold on broadcasting in Zimbabwe.

But SW Radio Africa has announced it is shutting down, saying donors were no longer keen to support the project.

“It was a U.S. State [Department] agency that gave us seed money to break what was then a stranglehold on radio. Although, technically, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) is a national asset, it is run by Zanu PF,” Jackson was reported as saying.

However, the length of the crisis in Zimbabwe “led to donor fatigue”, she added, and recent appeals for funding allowed SW Radio Africa to operate only on a month-to-month basis.

By July, it became clear that no more funds would be available and the station was forced to close down.

Jackson however told the BBC that the "massive disarray" in the opposition MDC, had contributed to "donor fatigue" while moves by the European Union to re-engage Mugabe had not helped.



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The MDC-T has been critically weakened by another split in the wake of its landslide election defeat last year after party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, at the helm since 1999, refused to step down.

Disgruntled key figures including secretary general and former finance minister Tendai Biti have since gone their separate ways and are in the process of forming another political party, a repeat of the 2005 split when then secretary general Welshman Ncube also left.

London-based pro-democracy group, Zimbabwe Vigil, lamented the closure of SW Radio Africa and criticised the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for rejecting entreaties to support the station.

“This weekend marks the end of SW Radio Africa which has been broadcasting high quality journalism to Zimbabwe for thirteen years,” Zim Vigil said in a statement.

“Coming at a time when the independent press at home is facing a growing financial squeeze, the Vigil believes the loss of this voice is a tragic blow to democracy.

“Supporting a peaceful democratic transition is proclaimed as one of the main objectives for Zimbabwe of the UK’s Department for International Development, which must have given our country well over a billion dollars of aid during the lifetime of SW Radio Africa.

“It’s a pity DFID didn’t see fit to provide money to keep the radio station going as it filled the prescription for this.”

Jackson established the station in London after an attempt to set up in Zimbabwe was blocked by the government.

“I used the Supreme Court to confirm there was no law to stop anyone from launching a radio service in Zimbabwe,” she recalled. “But when we started broadcasting, armed paramilitary broke down the door and seized our equipment.”

Notoriously uncomfortable with criticism, Mugabe’s government has shut opposition voices out of the airwaves through its control of the ZBC - for years the country’s sole broadcaster.

Under the coalition government, the opposition parties pressed for media reforms aimed at opening the sector up to private players but the wily Zanu PF responded by licencing operators run by its loyalists.

One of the two national radio licences was awarded to Zimpapers – which is majority owned by the government – while the other one was handed to a company controlled by Zanu PF MP and deputy information minister Supa Mandiwanzira.

Jackson on Mugabe threat to free radio


 
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